Cruise

Interview: Lakshmi Durai on converting travel clients to cruise holidays

If you book a client on the right cruise, repeat business is guaranteed, says Lakshmi

Lakshmi Durai is the CEO of Middle East-based cruise specialist CruiseXplore. Here she shares her extensive knowledge garnered over more than two decades in the cruise business to help more agents sell cruise and further fuel the rise in demand for cruise holidays among GCC-based travellers. Convince travel clients who ordinarily stay in traditional resorts to take a holiday at sea and Lakshmi insists the benefits could include a marked increase in repeat business.

Connecting Travel: Cruise is on the brink of a boom in the Middle East. What are local clients looking for?
Lakshmi Durai:
As a cruise specialist we sell all worldwide cruises to our Middle Eastern guests. GCC sailings are an excellent option for local clients to experience cruising in their own backyard. It gives the new cruisers an idea of what cruising is all about.We saw a lot of cruises sailing in the Middle East this winter, which is a positive trend. While Middle Eastern guests prefer a local cruise for winter, they travel to multiple destinations – such as the Mediterranean, Northern Europe, the Caribbean, Alaska and even the Far East – for summer.

CT: How do you help travel agents to sell cruise holidays?
LD:
 At CruiseXplore, we aim to provide the right cruise to the right guests at the best price. We’re a team of experienced cruise specialists available to provide training and support our trade partners with their cruise enquiries and bookings.

Cruise includes many benefits for the client. They just unpack once and get to visit multiple destinations in one cruise vacation, and there are more inclusions in a cruise compared to a land holiday. Cruise is a holiday where everything is arranged for the guest – from theatre shows to dining. So, selling cruise is actually very easy.

When travel agents sell the right cruises to guests, they return from vacation with the highest level of satisfaction. Guests get addicted to cruising after their first cruise and repeat business is guaranteed for travel agents.

CT: How can an agent know which cruise will secure repeat business?
LD:
Choosing the right type of cruise for your client is the key to creating a lifelong cruise client. However, cruising options are plenty. On average, ultra-luxury cruises, such as Silversea, Seabourn and Regent Seven Seas, have a staff-guest ratio of 1:1; premium cruises lines, such as Celebrity Cruises and Holland America have a staff-guest ratio of 2:1; mainstream cruise lines, such as NCL and Royal Caribbean have a staff-guest ratio of 3:1.

There are also different styles of cruises like adventure cruises, river cruises, family cruises with lots of kids’ activities, cruises for couples and solo cruises

We recommend that first-time cruisers take a week-long cruise as that’s the perfect duration to enjoy a cruise with couple of sea days and four or five ports of calls. We see most of our first-time cruisers from the GCC choosing Europe as their preferred destination to begin with.

shutterstock-silversea-silver-shadowSilversea Silver Shadow

CT: Which cruise would you recommend for a blow-the-budget bucket-list experience?
LD:
When time and money aren’t limited, a world cruise is a great choice. Many premium and ultra-luxury cruise brands offer world cruises of around 120 days calling in to unique destinations across multiple continents.

For example, ultra-luxury cruise brand Seabourn is offering a world cruise in 2023 for 140 days calling at 61 fascinating landfalls on six continents. The ship remains overnight or lingers late in dozens of interesting destinations and lasting friendships emerge as guests travel around the world in ease.

There are also expedition cruises to many stunning destinations that can be added to the bucket list. Some of these are the cruises to the frozen white continent of Antarctica, the rain forests of the Amazon and the ice-flanked waterways of the Arctic.

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CT: What’s the best expedition ship on the waters?
LD:
Seabourn launched an ultra-luxury purpose-built expedition ship called Seabourn Venture in April 2022. This ship includes a plethora of modern hardware and technology with brand new innovative design, created specifically for the ultra-luxury expedition traveller. It has two custom-built submarines onboard, which provide an unforgettable view of the world beneath the ocean’s surface and 132 all-veranda ocean-front suites.

Seabourn PursuitSeabourn Pursuit

CT: Which cruise would you recommend for budget travellers?
LD:
Almost all mainstream and premium cruise brands offer budget-friendly cruises. The differentiating factor is the stateroom category that guests opt for, with inside cabins generally being the most affordable.

CT: What about a cruise for a couple perhaps even a honeymoon?
LD: 
Cruises offer excellent honeymoon packages with many special inclusions where everything is well planned for the couples. They get truly pampered onboard. Honeymooners generally choose a premium or ultra-luxury cruise line, which tend to have fewer kids’ facilities and therefore fewer families.

Choosing a sailing outside of school holiday times also increases the likelihood of joining a more adult-focused cruise

CT: Which cruise lines do you recommend for families?
LD: 
Holland America Line, Norwegian Cruise Line, Royal Caribbean, Costa Cruises, MSC, Celebrity Cruises and many other cruise lines, particularly mainstream and premium varieties, offer family-friendly activities onboard. Cruises are multi-generational. Expect activities and features like sports court, rock climbing, racing tracks, water slides and kids’ clubs. Almost all the ships host fun and educational programmes for kids and teens, and a variety of evening shows, bars, lounges and dining options aimed at older travellers.

Ultimately, cruise is the perfect family vacation where three generations can travel together and get to engage happily in the activities that suites their age, interest and taste.

For more information, call +971 50 553 4503email ldurai@cruisexplore.com or visit www.cruisexplore.com

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